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07.08.2019 Opinion

Religious Public Holidays Discriminate Against Non-Believers And Religious Minorities

By Leo Igwe
Religious Public Holidays Discriminate Against Non-Believers And Religious Minorities
AUG 7, 2019 OPINION

Observance of religious public holidays in Nigeria is discriminatory and highlights the official exclusion of nonbelievers and religious minorities. Every year, the government declares several days are work-free days for Nigerians of all faiths and none. Incidentally, these are mostly Christian and Islamic religious public holidays.

These are days to mark key Christian and Islamic religious feasts, Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Eid el Kabir, Eid el Fitr, Eid el Maulud, etc. In many cases, these holidays go with additional work-free days. So every year, national religious holidays will run into weeks. For instance, the Federal government has declared August 12 and 13 as public holidays to mark the Muslim feast, Eid el Kabir. These days, Nigerians of all faiths and none will stay at home and not go to work. State offices and banks will not open as Muslim Nigerians celebrate.

Unfortunately, no national public holidays exist to mark minority religious celebrations in the country. No atheist or humanist public holidays exist. Meanwhile, millions of Nigerians are neither Christians nor Muslims. Millions of Nigerians are atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers. So, state observance of religious public holidays is discriminatory.

The constitution of Nigeria prohibits the adoption of a state religion or discrimination based on religious belief or unbelief. So state observance of Christian and Islamic public holidays violates the constitution. It makes Christianity and Islam state religions, and Nigerians who do not belong to these religions, second-class citizens.

Otherwise, why are minority religions excluded? Why are religious minorities and nonbelievers made to observe the majority religious public holidays? Why are national holidays not declared to mark freethought or atheistic landmarks?

This situation is unacceptable and must change. Nigerians of all faiths and none are equal before the law. The state should not privilege a religion or some religions. The government should be an impartial guarantor of the rights of all Nigerians, and should not adopt policies and programs that discriminate against Nigerians on grounds of religious belief or unbelief.

To this end, two options are open to Nigeria- the separationist or the inclusionist option. The separationist option requires the Nigerian government to stop declaring or observing all religious public holidays. It leaves observance of these holidays to the religious establishments. Obviously, given the religious and political realities in Nigeria, this idea will not fly. This proposal will be stiffly opposed especially in Northern Nigeria where sharia is in force and separation of mosque and state is sometimes violently resisted.

However, Nigeria could tow another path. The government could adopt the inclusionist policy. In this case, the government would observe all religious and freethought holidays as national holidays. There will be national holidays to mark key religious and freethought landmarks.

So concerning national public holidays, the Nigerian government needs to show that it excludes none; that it does not discriminate against anyone based on religion or lack thereof. And it can demonstrate its neutrality in religious matters by adopting a separationist or an inclusionist approach to the observance of religious public holidays. Anything short of this is discriminatory.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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